When my son was a week old I dropped him on the bathroom floor. He lay alone, crumpled on the cold tile for the few seconds that it took for me to freeze, gasp and scoop him back up into the warm cocoon of my arms and neck. He cried that incessant, toneless wail only newborns cry…devoid of emotion, heart wrenching.
Sometimes I wish I could forget that I dropped him. But the fog that cloaked his arrival with sleepless wonder did not shroud those few horrifying seconds. And 13 years later, I remember them with a clarity both shocking and comforting.
I watched his trusting body fall to the unforgiving floor. I couldn’t believe my carelessness, the ease with which he fell, as if I had merely dropped a resilient steel dish. His soft head landed with a thump so dull it echoed for years, and we worried he had suffered a concussion, impaired vision, a twisted spine or worse. What if he was in pain? How would we know?
As suddenly as I had lost my grip on him, he was back in my arms. I kissed him and nursed him, stroked his head and sang gently in his ear. “Sorry, sorry, sorry,” I whispered through my tears. The monotone cry stopped almost immediately. His navy blue eyes looked right into mine, and he curled his baby fingers tightly around my thumb. He seemed to forgive me. And I forgave myself.
That expressionless cry is now a deepening teenage voice, colored with sarcasm. Those black-blue eyes have faded to washed denim, and his fingers grip his iPhone tightly as he texts friends, uploads photos to Instagram and tells me he’s watching a Science video when I know he’s become addicted to “How I Met Your Mother.”
He rolls his eyes when I ask too many questions. He rolls them again when I tell him to please look at me while mumbling we’re out of frozen waffles. He yells, “I’m. Coming!” when I call him to the car for the fourth time, because now we really are late for karate. He’s not able to buckle up the irritation as he snaps the seatbelt and stares straight ahead.
He is vague and easily annoyed, moody and hungry, and trying to find his teenage self. And he’s also the big brother. The easy one. Does his homework. Brushes his teeth without being told, needs to be reminded to tie his shoes and jokes around with his brothers. I sign the permission slip for the eighth grade dance when he asks. I can’t remember the last time he needed help with anything.
I encourage his independence, and I worry. It’s not the closed bedroom door, the ever-present earbuds, the eye-rolls and sarcasm that worry me. It’s not even the white lies and the ambiguity. It’s the feeling he portrays that he’s got this, that he can deal with his life and whatever comes his way alone, on his own, by himself. He is only 13.
He is independent. He can sign himself up for a karate tournament, decide whether to go to the dance, figure out his electives with more than enough savvy for a boy his age. But sometimes and inevitably life becomes too much for even the most responsible, the most independent, the most reliable to handle. And he does not have to deal with confusing, scary and complicated alone. He is only 13.
And so, I ask questions. I ignore the exasperated eye rolls and irritation. I peer over his shoulder at the screen, follow him on Instagram, pay attention to the names he casually mentions. And I leave him be, behind his closed bedroom door.
I don’t forget that I dropped him right out of my arms when he was one-week-old. That I worried he would suffer because of my carelessness, because I was tired, because I wasn’t paying attention.
I also don’t forget that I reached down and picked him up. That it was cold on the floor, but my hands and arms and rushing heart were warm. That his eyes looked straight and trusting into mine. That his tiny fingers curled tightly around my thumb, and my now steady hand gently and firmly enveloped his growing one.
I know he’s eager to explore the big out there. It’s exciting and fun and there’s much to learn and experience. And it’s also cold, hard and scary. I hope he feels my warm arms, reluctant this time to let him go. I hope he hears my heart beating a steady, consistent mom-rhythm even with the earbuds in his ears. I hope he feels my hands ever so slightly loosening their grip, but never out of reach.